There’s no ‘perfect time’ for giving employees feedback

As COO of a company with more than 350 employees from 40 different nationalities of all ages who speak 20+ languages, I’ve noticed that everyone likes to know where they stand when it comes to their job performance.

Yet, for many managers, giving feedback often falls to the bottom of their priority list. According to Gallup, less than half of employees surveyed said they received feedback even a few times a year. So, if 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized, implementing more regular feedback practices would seem like a no-brainer.

What’s stopping us?

Anyone who has experienced startup life knows there are times when it feels as though everything is moving at warp speed — that’s certainly the rate things have been moving at MessageBird for the last 18 months. After our Series A in late 2017, we hired aggressively to rapidly execute on our product roadmap and increased our employee base by more than 100% in a matter of months. For established companies, that would be a pretty aggressive hiring blitz, but for a younger business without all the necessary processes in place, the times occasionally bordered on chaotic.

It’s difficult to call that hiring frenzy a mistake, because we learned so much from it. Most notably, you can’t put performance feedback on hold until you have everything “ironed out.” The pace of business today is too quick to wait for the perfect time, because the “perfect time” may be too late or worse — it may never come at all.

What you lose in time, you’ll gain in dollars

It turns out that when the word “continuous” is added to the words “performance management,” you can almost hear the groans. Taking time to give feedback may feel like a luxury that managers don’t have when a startup is in hyper-growth mode, and giving employees feedback “continuously” sounds a bit obsessive, but the fact is, you can’t afford not to do it. Companies that implement regular performance feedback are reported to have nearly 15% less turnover, and with the staggering cost of rehiring estimated to be between 90 and 200% of an employee’s salary, keeping them engaged is a good investment.

Whether you put these strategies under the banner of continuous performance management, internal communications strategies or management 101, here are four learnings around giving regular feedback that have proven to be effective for us:

You don’t need to have everything figured out before setting short-term goals

It would certainly be easier if every road we headed down led directly to our intended destination, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we’re faced with detours, roadblocks, or may even decide on another destination altogether. It’s the same with building a startup, where being customer-oriented means that priorities will often change to reflect the needs of your customer base.

We’ve learned that you don’t have to have it all figured out before setting short-term goals for employees. Everyone likes to know what success looks like in their roles, so having goals to work toward and achieve helps team members measure beyond the simple execution of their daily tasks. Even when priorities shift and goals change, having continuous feedback processes in place helps employees work through inevitable transitions and adapt so they can recalibrate goals more effectively.

Surprises are not the best approach to feedback

Anyone who has ever done an open-water swim knows how quickly a swimmer can stray off course if they don’t look up every third or fourth stroke to stay on target. Continuous performance management works a lot like that.

We encourage managers to do weekly one-on-one meetings with team members to share course corrections regularly. We then use these discussions as the basis for slightly more formal quarterly reviews in which we may do broader recaps on overall performance to date. You have to think of quarterly reviews as a light lift and not the kind of review that a more traditional company may use when awarding pay raises or stock grants. You may still choose to do a more traditional review on a yearly basis, but when quarterly feedback is documented, a yearly review becomes a breeze.

Whatever your cadence for providing feedback, it should never come as a surprise to your employee. The sooner course corrections are made, the sooner an employee can act on them.

Communication doesn’t have to be perfect

A common misconception among business leaders is the feeling we need to have all the answers before communicating broadly. The challenge is that communicating nothing communicates more than you think. In fact, too little communication can be worse, as employees have a tendency to fill in the blanks with information that’s often inaccurate.

One of the ways we’ve created a forum to share information and address questions is through monthly all-hands meetings. During these hour-long meetings, we bring the team together to introduce new employees who have joined since the last meeting, share project updates and zoom in on a critical area or two. At the end of each meeting, we have a Q&A session so employees can ask questions and hear from leadership.

While the Q&A session provides an opportunity to share feedback, we know that not all employees want to stand up in front of peers to voice their thoughts or concerns, so taking advantage of survey tools has helped us create a continuous cycle of feedback on our meeting performance that in turn helped us deliver better content in future meetings.

Performance feedback is not a one-way street

Hearing constructive feedback can be hard for anyone, and it’s no different for the leaders of an organization. It’s tempting to surround yourself with those who make you feel you’re doing a good job or that only share the good news. But when you’re the leader, you need to be able to face feedback. In fact, according to data from Deloitte, employees value an environment of listening even more than pay and other benefits.

Not only does accepting feedback serve as a tool for continued learning, it can be a motivator to employees when they feel heard. Whether it’s pulse surveys, employee feedback sessions or one-one-one discussions, managers who seek and not fear feedback build trust with their teams.

Studies show that pretty much nothing in the workplace comes even close to being appreciated — not pay, promotion, training or ability to work from home. Whatever methods you choose, providing more continuous feedback on a regular basis may be a blessing and not the curse you might think it is.